Monday, January 28, 2013

What is Ordinary?


or.di.nar.y 
Adjective: With no special or distinctive features; normal.
Noun: What is commonplace or standard.
Synonyms: common-usual-regular-normal-habitual-customary

I spent the last week immersed in a writing workshop with 12 talented non-fiction authors. I learned so much and am truly grateful for the experience. I also walked away with a new appreciation for the ordinariness of my life. The subject matter in every manuscript dealt with loss, survival and a deeply personal search for identity and purpose.

I suggested more emotion to the detached narrative of an ER nurse who reunites adoptees with their birth families after enduring 15 years of profound abuse in foster care. I scratched out unnecessary adjectives to the story of a young man who lost his father and grandfather the same year he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and his wife left him. I asked for clarification in the tale of a young mother who fears she inherited the insanity that drove her father to become one of the most notorious serial rapists in California history. I wanted to know more back story on what led a woman to become a nun who writes about her faith while battling cancer. I corrected punctuation in the tale of a family ripped in half by Fidel Castro’s regime. I questioned the line drawn between fiction and non-fiction in the story of a woman who lives off the grid in the desert and came to love a rattlesnake that followed her everywhere. There was the ambitious bucket list of a woman who beat cancer three times. There was the loss of innocence of a young woman caught in a web of greed and sex. There was the recollection of what it was like to grow up as the starving child of New York City starving artists in the 1950’s. There was the disillusioned doctor who gave up a well-earned life of comfort to treat dying AIDS patients in Africa. There were parents who lost children to suicide.

I walk away from the class wondering why anyone would ever make up  a script  when every single person has such a fascinating, if not cautionary, tale to share. The strange thing is you would never know it unless the person happens to be a memoir writer. My classmates all look and act so ordinary. They have careers and families and homes and hobbies and habits. We are all the same in so many ways. But we are not.

For today's "Sky's the Limit" on what you can learn: Ordinary: I am not the first to ponder the question of what is ordinary. Couldn't pick just one when there are so many thought provoking quotes on the subject:

- I was like a boy playing n the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding the smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
-Isaac Newton

Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.
-Blaise Pascal

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.
-Oscar Wilde

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at the present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
-C.S. Lewis

-Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will asset integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.
-Cecil Beaton


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